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Canadian Supreme Court Rules That Vancouver's Insite Drug Injection Clinic Will Stay Open

October 3, 2011

When Insite, the first-ever safe injection drug site in Canada, opened its doors in Vancouver in 2003, controversy immediately followed. Many questioned whether Insite's existence would encourage more drug use, usher in crime and worsen public health. But 30 studies in eight years have proven these fears to be unwarranted. Matter of fact, research has found that by providing sanitary conditions for addicts while they inject drugs, medical supervision to monitor for overdoses, clean needles, and counseling for those seeking rehabilitation, this center saves lives, reduces the risk of IV drug users contracting HIV, and has lowered the number of overdoses in the area.


But despite overwhelming scientific and community support for Insite, Canada's conservative leadership has been trying to shut it down over the years, claiming that the injection center breaks federal anti-drug laws. But thanks to a landmark decision handed down from Canada's Supreme Court last week, Insite will stay open.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that closing the clinic would be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that the federal health minister must grant Insite an exemption from federal laws. In the ruling, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote: "Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven. There has been no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its eight years of operation."

CBC News reported:

Supporters of Insite immediately celebrated their victory and expressed relief over the decision.

"This has been the most incredible battle," NDP MP Libby Davies said at the court in Ottawa minutes after the decision. She said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has been opposed to Insite based on partisan and ideological principles and never recognized its benefits. It saves lives, she said.

"The Conservative government has been relentless in their opposition, so today's decision by the court just feels like an incredible victory. It feels like a great day," she said. Insite is in her riding and she said she was thinking of her constituents who use the clinic.

Davies as at the court in Ottawa with Dean Wilson, one of her constituents who used the clinic and helped launch the original court case. A former heroin addict who has been clean for two years, he said he supports more clinics like Insite in other cities, but only if it's right for that community. The floodgates shouldn't necessarily open because of the ruling, he said.

"You need the nurses on side, you need the city on side, you need the local police department on side," the 55-year-old said.

Wilson said he wants to offer an olive branch to the federal government so that all sides can work together to support what he called a gold standard in health services.

In a statement, Leona Aglukkaq, Canada's Health Minister, said, "Although we are disappointed with the Supreme Court of Canada's decision today, we will comply. We believe that the system should be focused on preventing people from becoming drug addicts."

Harm reduction advocates are hoping that this decision will translate into more centers like Insite opening up throughout Canada.

Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for and

Copyright © 2011 The HealthCentral Network, Inc. All rights reserved.

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This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
Needle Exchange & HIV/AIDS: Canada

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